When shiny new technology comes out, innovators come out with ways it can solve a range of problems. Virtual Reality (VR) is no exception, with countless hyped-up marketing gimmicks popping up all over in the hope of reeling in starry-eyed masses to otherwise dull trade shows, exhibits or product launches. In so many instances like this, technology is an enabler – not a solution. So how can VR empower teachers? When it comes to education, does VR really solve the problems we see in the industry? Or should we stick to the tried and trusted PowerPoint presentations, online course work or the in-person reiteration of facts when teaching? To help solve this conundrum, we turned to Education and Digital Transformation Specialist Angela Schaerer.
Which Method Is Best?
Throughout her career, Schaerer has focused on honing her skills as a ninja-education guru and has also played a pivotal role in ensuring that teachers and students feel empowered and confident to adopt new technologies in the classroom with the intention of bringing about transformative and continuous learning experiences. This doesn’t necessarily mean that any new tech is the answer. For Schaerer, it’s about using the right technology. According to her, “technology must be proven to solve a problem better than previous methods.
We also need to consider how we could use technology alongside other traditional teaching methods. This is so that we cater to the needs of a range of learners and communicate the course content in the best way possible.” Schaerer’s comment rings true; if technology doesn’t help learners feel more connected to the course content and confident in how they can apply their new knowledge, then we need to start questioning its necessity. And it’s at this point that she believes virtual reality as a technology has a significant role to play.
Bringing Experiences To Life For Students & Teachers through VR
Various methods of teaching have certainly helped students on their learning journey. There comes the point when genuinely experiencing the course material trumps any amount of theoretical verbiage or hilarious cat memes. When students get to dive into the world of experiential learning (learning-by-doing), this can change. As they engage with hands-on experiences and reflection, they get to connect the theories of the classroom to real-world situations. Take for instance learning from a textbook or webpage about the history of Galileo as the father of modern astronomy; this is perfectly fine and does the job required. But wouldn’t the rest of the subject matter (pardon the pun) be even more memorable if you could look through a telescope up into the night sky and experience what Galileo must have experienced all those hundreds of years ago?
According to Schaerer, VR has the potential to do this (and more) because of its ability to combine immersive and interactive features, which enable experiential learning. The introduction of VR in the classroom has made it possible for students to experience specific lessons in a far more immersive and engaging way where they get to connect with the course content and retain the knowledge that they’ve learnt. Research indicates learning retention rates sit at 75% when students use VR whereas in-class lectures and reading course work sit at a respective 5% and 10%. This increased emotional connection to the course content through the medium of VR positively impacts their critical thinking, problem-solving skills and creative output.
VR Helps Teachers To Bring Practically Anything To Life
Imagine exploring the ancient ruins of Rome. What about mixing chemicals in a VR science lab (Dexter’s Lab style), and seeing what results get cooked up. Hopefully without enraged parents discovering their children have smoke singed-eyebrows and smell ever-so-faintly of chemical fumes. Being able to learn through the immersive world of VR also means students can learn from their mistakes much faster than ever before and work through the process until they get it right (no more missing eyebrows!)
From the teacher’s perspective, VR has shifted their role from conveyors of often regurgitated course material to empowered facilitators. Using VR, they can now focus on exploring with their students and bringing about rich and contextual discussions that elevate the conversation and thinking process. Schaerer couldn’t agree more, stating that the future of education using standardized, scalable VR solutions can fundamentally shift how teachers and even society approach learning and teaching. After all, VR doesn’t just have the ability to make the learning process more successful and significant; it’s also a great democratiser in terms of students and schools who wouldn’t necessarily have the means to go on expensive field trips or have state-of-the-art science labs.
Considering The Context
As incredible and innovative as VR might be, Schaerer also reminds us that it should come with a disclaimer. “Technology must be proven to solve a problem better than previous methods.” In essence, we need to carefully consider when VR is appropriate. It won’t be for all course material. When the message you want to share requires a learning-by-doing approach, like looking beyond the stars and into the darkest of dark-matter, or mixing up a noteworthy chemical compound guaranteed to stink out the whole room, then VR is the tech tool of choice. Once again, this is because VR provides an active learning environment where students and teachers are excited to engage with course material and can absorb abstract concepts more deeply without distractions.
There will undoubtedly be instances when direct instruction or simply reading from a textbook might be the best tool for teaching; however, other times might require a more immersive learning approach, and thanks to VR, this is now entirely possible. Part of our approach at Sozo Labs is focusing on a blended approach when it comes to delivering educational solutions that provide memorable and engaging experiences. VR isn’t a sliver bullet that will magically solve the academic challenges many teachers and learners face. Instead, we should view VR as a tool in a teacher’s toolkit. We can use it when it’s most appropriate.
There’s no doubt that VR can transform the future of education and learning. The key to its success as a technological tool is ensuring its managed and used by those who understand its potential as a learning tool. and are open to the world of possibilities it offers because, as Schaerer states, “…they can be boundless.”